Dog owner advocating for fenced park in Lawrence
- on July 29, 2012
Maureen Bernhagen wants a fenced dog park in Lawrence that would be more accessible and safer for dogs and their owners.
She has two small dogs — Cosmo and Taza — and has no place to let them safely romp although Lawrence has two off-leash dog parks.
“There’s a lack of fences,” she said. “My dogs are not well trained to come on command all of the time. They need to be fenced in and with dogs that are similar in size.”
One of Lawrence’s dog parks is the 30-acre Mutt Run established in 2001 below the Clinton Dam. It has a small fenced area that is overgrown with trees, weeds and brush and few, if any, dog owners use it.
Bernhagen said the park is not easily accessible because it’s on the western outskirts of town and most people have to drive to get there.
Lawrence also allows dogs to be off their leashes in Riverfront Park near downtown, but many owners don’t feel comfortable letting their dogs run free so close to the river.
Bernhagen submitted a proposal to establish a fenced dog park to the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department board earlier this month. She said it would be healthy not only for dogs, but for owners.
“People just go for the entertainment factor, just to sit and watch the dogs,” she said. “I think there’s a great social aspect for seniors because they typically can’t let their dogs go loose or walk the terrain that’s out at the Clinton Lake dog park.”
Dog parks are the fastest-growing segment of city parks.
According to a study by the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, there were 569 off-leash dog parks in the 100 largest cities in 2010, a 34 percent increase in five years. Parks overall only increased 3 percent in that time.
It’s no surprise to Ernie Shaw, director of Lawrence Parks and Recreation. “There just seems to be a lot of synergy in that area,” he said. “There does probably need to be another in-town, dog park somewhere.”
Bernhagen has proposed locating the dog park at Peterson Road Park, which is 22 acres of undeveloped, city-owned property just west of Hallmark Cards. She said not only did someone from Parks and Recreation mention the site as a possibility, but she thinks the dog park could be an economic boost because it would be located near two hotels. She said it might help attract dog events and shows.
However, Shaw said a master plan for Peterson Park Road completed in 2000 calls for extended parking, rest rooms, picnic areas, an outdoor roller hockey rink and a building that people could rent for gatherings.
“That’s on the shelf and it has been on the shelf for 12 years, and regardless if money popped up tomorrow, we are going to have to go back and revise it,” he said.
Shaw said the board will start looking at possible locations for a dog park in the fall and likely will hold public meetings. He said the location will be the toughest part of the process because some people won’t want it in their backyard and others will.
Then, it will be a matter of cost and where it falls on the priority list with the money that’s available.
The department is making about $20,000 in improvements this year at Mutt Run based on responses to an online survey. Those include: expanded parking, upgrades to the existing shelter, new signage, a dog wash pad and small dog pond. It plans to work on two double-gated fenced areas — one for small dogs and one for large dogs, but Shaw said the timeline depends on money and other projects.
“We are going to look into that and see what the cost is because that was something high on the list,” he said.
Bernhagen knows that funding is tight and proposed a few options for raising money: seeking corporate sponsorships, implementing a minimal fee for dog licensing or charging a small fee for a key card assess system to the park.
She has circulated a petition for the dog park and so far, she’s collected 375 signatures. All of them were willing to pay a fee.
“I think that establishing a dog licensing system in Lawrence would be a great way to start because most cities this size do have dog licensing as part of their city ordinance,” she said.
Shaw said a committee discussed a dog licensing fee when Mutt Run was established and concluded that by the time they hired people to handle the licensing fees and to check on dog owners who had permits, the costs would outweigh the income.
Lawrence residents might want to look down the road to Leavenworth’s new Waggin’ Tails Dog Park, which was started by resident Ruie Gibson, an owner of three dogs.
She went to that city’s Parks and Recreation Department board with a dog park proposal and found the board receptive. Gibson said she handpicked a dog park committee that began meeting monthly. Meanwhile, the city offered six acres of land that was centrally located near the Veteran’s Administration center.
“It’s a beautiful tract of land that wasn’t being used that went through the park board and they agreed, and they of course had no funds for it, so we as a committee agreed to start raising money,” she said.
In two and a half years, they raised $30,000, and the fenced dog park opened in June 2010.
Gibson said it was and continues to be a community effort. The Parks and Recreation department maintains the landscaping and provides disposable pet waste bags. A Boy Scout made six benches for the park for his Eagle project, and other benches have been donated in memory of dog owners who have used the park. The committee continues to meet and raise money for park improvements. It sponsors two events each year.
“It is a meeting place for folks who love dogs. We’ve even had a couple of romances,” she said, with a laugh. “You get to know people you never would have. We preach that to the city because it’s something for the people too.”
Three years ago, Riley County Parks and Recreation established a fenced dog park in Manhattan's Fairmont Park. It has agility equipment and dog fountains.
"We've had good feedback on it and it's been pretty popular. It's getting a lot of use," said Greg Lund, parks supervisor.
Meanwhile, Chuck Deprima, parks planner for the Manhattan Parks and Recreation Department is working on the city's next fenced dog park. Deprima said he is working on a design and seeking an active citizen group to help with the park. He said the park's success depends on people's ability to self police.
"Right now, I am just doing a lot of research and analyzing some land in the city, and then I am going to start reaching out to some of those folks to see what they are willing to do," he said.
On Thursday evening, Marie Piasecki and her husband, Matt McCaskey, visited Lawrence’s Mutt Run for the first time. They had adopted a 6-month-old dog named Bosco from the shelter just six days earlier.
The couple said they enjoyed walking along the paths in the large park instead of crossing a bunch of streets in town, but they couldn’t let Bosco off his leash yet. He is just getting to know them and learning to respond to his name.
“I like the idea of a fenced-in area just because then you know they are not going to find a rabbit or chase a whatever, but get out of sight and then all of a sudden they are halfway across the county line or something like that. Definitely, the fenced-in ones are really nice,” she said.
Bernhagen, who helps organize Lawrence's annual Dogtoberfest, said she's still waiting to hear back from the Parks and Recreation board members on what the next steps might be, if any.
DOG PARK EFFORT
Maureen Bernhagen has submitted a proposal to the Parks and Recreation board to establish a fenced dog park in Lawrence. If you are interested in learning more or joining the effort, contact Bernhagen at firstname.lastname@example.org.